Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Repudiation and Succession

We can be excused our happiness for so many reasons, not the least being that just in his first week President Obama is proving to be just the leader we've expected. Jubilation's easy to come by when your team wins, and it fills out like a full sail when it carries the promise of a positive course for the world. Knowing that we will all sacrifice together for a better day makes it sweeter, though tougher: we're all going to carry a burden for the greater good, and at the finish, we'll have the right to be proud of ourselves, our fellow citizens, and our country. So the winning has passed and the work has started, and in ourselves we find the patriotism that has eluded our most cynical. So this is more than just a repudiation of the Bush era. It's much more than that.

At the base, we've repudiated more than just an administration. That sense of relief you feel, the tonnage lifted from your backs, is more than just a farewell to the most secretive, dangerous, subversive, underhanded eight years this country has ever seen. It is, and it's more than, the repudiation of a generation.

We've repudiated supply-side economics, that bastard grandchild of trickle-down. We've repudiated the religion of tax cuts and laissez-faire. With it went the fantasy that the free market cures all economic ills. Ayn Rand and her acolytes have sailed into irrelevance, the idea that somehow businesses will work for the betterment of humankind because the search for profits will lead us there discredited. Greed is an exhausted notion. Selfishness has gone with it.

Goodbye, the ideas that a government cannot care about and for its citizens. Take along with you the baggage of a generation's misdeeds: Enron, Bechtel, Halliburton, Iran-Contra, Abscam, Abramoff, "national malaise," stagflation, wiretapping, misbegotten wars, disrespect for our servicemen from the top, and a return to the law of the economic jungle. Put in your baggage Star Wars, MAD, neocolonialism, bellicosity, and rules-for-thee-but-not-for-me. Those notions are old now.

So it is with jingoism, the bitter distillation of patriotism, anger, and fear. So it is with anti-intellectualism and the rule of the brute. So it is with fear of dissent. So it is with the darkness of paranoia. So it is with the weary resignation that lets such things live.

Not everything is fixed, and not all evil is dead. It won't ever be. If we've learned anything since the last great hope, it's that human nature will always keep utopia bobbing just ahead of our fingertips. Forces that survive on the power of savage fear will always find food. But in this day, and in this time, though they don't realize it, they have become irrelevant. They're howling into the wind now, afraid that power will slip away from them. They don't know it already has.

But it's never far from their reach. Smoldering resentment is seductive. It nurses its anger on patient milk. That this country has passed through its greatest crisis of character since the war that nearly tore us apart is a reason to celebrate, and we should. We've looked national despair in the eye and found the will to stare it down. Now we can stand fast, work together, and hold on to the confidence we've found within ourselves.

We've let go, at long last, of a generation. We are the ones we've been waiting for.

Monday, January 19, 2009

He Is Beautiful

It seems there are a few out there who do not understand the mood of this country at this historic time. They are called Republicans.

Someone I know recently remarked that he hasn't seen a jubilance like this moment in this country since V-J day. (And yes, he was a young man at the time.) That struck me, because of my silly grin for the last couple of weeks, mirroring the one I began wearing on November 4th. I balance that with the sneering remarks from the right, many of them variations on "Obama the Messiah." Yes, I worry that we expect too much out of him. But I want to say to those who sneer: "You don't understand. It's not about him. It's about US."

Today, I saw coverage of Obama saying things he has said since long before the election. It won't be easy; we are only going to come through this together; we have within us everything we need to do exactly what is called upon at this moment; we must sacrifice. What we must understand is that this is a man who acutely understands history and the spirit of this country. America has done its best when this country is at its worst. This country transforms iron and coal into steel in the crucible of turmoil. We hurt, we rage, we suffer, but our fortune has always been that in the moments crisis threaten us, we have found the leaders who have challenged us to reach within ourselves and find our common spring. From it, from ourselves, flow the waters that replenish us, heal us, and bring us to new days.

No one can think Obama is sugarcoating anything. He certainly isn't. He is telling us that things are awful, they're going to get worse, and we're going to suffer. Isn't that a prescription for defeat? Not at all, not when that man informs us that we have within us the resources to endure and flourish. And we do. He tells us what we fully know. What those few who sneer don't understand is that we hunger for this. We have hungered for this since the old call to ask what we can do for our country. We have hungered for the man who would look at our spirits' empty bellies and say, "Only together can we fill them." We have hungered for the man who would see the country in crisis, tell us the truth, and say: We have what we need. It is within us.

This country has been in constant crisis since the days of Viet Nam. We have been beset on all sides by anger, ignorance, frustration, and the erosion of the spirit that nourishes us. We've seen the false populists come and go. We've seen the incompetent come and go. We've seen the cheerleaders come and go. But has it really been since Kennedy that we have had a man who said to us, "We are the people we have been waiting for"? Has it really been nearly fifty years since we were told that we, together, can accomplish so much more than us, apart?

Yes. At last, we have what we have hungered for. We are called to sacrifice, and we say, "At last!" We are called to service, and we say, "We can do it!" A man, a solitary man, calls us to unite, and we say, "Thank you!"

Is it any wonder we respond with the biggest, most powerful, most sincere outpouring of affection and admiration since those halcyon days of Camelot? He asks us to do the impossible, and tells us that we have it within us. And we, together, tell him: "Yes, we can."